You’ve followed college basketball all season, you’ve done your research and you are fairly confident in your bracket picks. Then the unthinkable happens, the underdog upsets the No. 1 seed. That’s just what happened on March 17, 2018 when the University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC) shocked Virginia 74-54 to become the first No. 16 seed in NCAA tournament history to beat the No. 1 seed. With this upset, the remaining 25 perfect brackets among the millions completed before March Madness were ruined.
With numbers like this it may be tempting to forego any attempt to craft a perfect bracket this March but where is the fun in accepting defeat? To help you with your picks this March, Betway has analyzed the past 10 years of the tournament to identify this year’s potential Cinderella stories.
Know Your Numbers
Betway has classified a first-round upset as a team seeded 10th or lower advancing, as the chances of a No. 9 seed beating a No. 8 seed are too high to be considered a shock. According to their research, there have been 72 such upsets in the last 10 years bringing the average to approximately seven per year. There have been no more than 10 first-round upsets in a single year and no fewer than five.
It’s natural to want to populate your bracket with surprise wins in the first-round but the truth is that double-digit upsets are unlikely. You should also avoid wasting one of those surprise picks on a No. 16 or No. 15 seed. UMBC is the exception not the rule; just eight No. 15 seeds have ever progressed to the second round.
What you should be asking is, “Which teams seeded 10th to 14th are most likely to cause a shock?” The First Four – a series of play-in games played prior to the tournament – is an excellent place to start finding answers. Since 2011, a team that triumphed in the First Four has gone on to win in the first round of the tournament in every year.
As a general rule, low seeds fall into in two categories: mid-major conference champions and teams that finished lower in the standings in major conferences. If you’re looking for a first-round upsets, you should be watching mid-major teams.
In the past 10 years, 44 of the 72 teams to shock sport enthusiasts in the first-round were from mid-major conferences, with the Atlantic 10 the top conference with eight. Conference-USA has also produced recent upsets with its champion advancing to the Round of 32 in each of the past four years.
Surprise teams can be found fairly evenly across the country but Ohio is the home of the upset. Nine teams seeded 10th or lower from the Buckeye State have won in the Round of 64 since 2009 – three more than any other state.
As expected, upsets become rarer after the first round. In the past 10 years, just 23 teams seeded 10th or lower have advanced past the Round of 32 and 20 of those teams were seeded between No. 10 and No. 12.
Mid-major teams generally perform well in the first round. This split becomes more even in the later stages; 12 of the 23 teams that reached at least the Sweet 16 in the past 10 years have come from a major conference.
Of the five teams in the past 10 years that made it all the way to the Elite Eight, just one won their conference.
You’re better off ignoring that hunch telling you to pick a low seed from a small conference. Stick to the big powerhouse teams as the tournament advances, regardless of where they finished in the regular season.
Last year may have been the year of the upset, with UMBC shocking everyone and Loyola-Chicago’s exciting run to the Final Four, but it’s likely that more familiar teams will be the ones to advance far into the tournament this year.